Choosing the best internet service can be a knotty undertaking despite the fact that the internet is seemingly everywhere. First, you may need to determine the right fit in the speed and delivery method as well as the local availability.

These are the steps that will help you pick an optimal internet service.


1. How fast do you need the speed to be?

Firstly, you may need to understand what bandwidth means so that you may be able to pick the proper level of service. Bandwidth is typically measured in megabits per second, which is the highest rate at which you are able to download data from the internet to your computer. The more devices that you have on the same connection and the more data-intensive activities you usually do, the more amount of bandwidth that you will need.

Assuming a single user at a time, this explanation below shall give you a rough idea of the bandwidth that is needed to do typical internet activities. However, you will need enough bandwidth to satisfy simultaneous activities since your total bandwidth is shared among all connected devices. If you want a general web surfing, email, social media, then you will need about 1 Mbps. If you want to play online gaming, you shall need about 1 to 3 Mbps. If you want to have a video-conferencing, you shall need about 1 to 4 Mbps.

If you want a standard-definition video streaming, then you shall need about 3 to 4 Mbps. If you want a high-definition video streaming, then you shall need about 5 to 8 Mbps. Finally, a frequent large file downloading will cost you about 50 Mbps and above. A connection with a low latency which basically means that the time that is required for your computer to talk to the game server is more important than bandwidth for gaming. For quality video conferencing, you may want at least 1 Mbps of upload speed.

2. What are the options that are available in your area?

You may check out websites such as Broadband Now and In My Area to get an idea of which providers serve your area once you already know what kind of internet speed that you need. NerdWallet might make money when you click on their recommendations and they have no affiliations with these sites but they do offer a snapshot of a local internet service provider. Additional research could be helpful as they might not show every option that is available.

You will likely have the option of internet service in most metro areas via either a cable provider, satellite company, phone company or even a fiber-optic service. You might not have access to such a variety of methods in more rural areas although you are likely to be covered by a satellite broadband provider. In order for you to find what is available near you, we would recommend you to type in your ZIP code at sites like Broadband Now and In My Area.

These sites seem to have the most precise information out of the many internet provider search sites available. Besides that, there is also a government-maintained broadband search site at broadbandmap.gov, however, let me remind you that the data are several years old. The higher the speed, the lower the options for internet service.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these options?

Although the internet service from your cable provider may come with a more expensive price tag, the cable provider will most probably provide the fastest and most reliable speeds. As for DSL, which is the internet from a phone company tends to be cheaper compared to cable but is much slower as well. The one that has the widest availability but tends to be expensive and slow is the satellite internet.

The providers, plans, pricing, and available speeds for internet service varies from city to city. What is available can differ from block to block even within a given city. The advantage is that it is widely available and it is affordable compared to a satellite internet service or fiber optic.

The disadvantage is that it is much slower than a cable or even a fiber optic internet. The actual download speeds are usually slower than the “up-to” speeds that providers frequently advertise. With cable or fiber optic, this is not the case. Now let’s take a look at the cable internet service. To deliver high-speed internet, instead of using telephone wires, this service uses cable wires.

As a result, the service is faster. Maximum download speed for a DSL offering is at a top end of 45 Mbps while the maximum download speed tiers range from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps. Even when using multiple internet-connected devices, 100 Mbps is faster than most household needs. Typically starting at 15 Mbps or 25 Mbps, lower speed tiers are also available. If we were to compare cable internet service to DSL, cable internet service tends to be more reliable than DSL. A report from the Federal Communications Commission in December 2016 found out that most of the cable and fiber optic internet providers have successfully delivered download speeds as fast as or even faster than advertised. DSL providers failed to do so.

The advantage of using cable internet service is that it is clearly faster than DSL and most fiber optics depending on your package. On top of that, it is also more reliable compared to DSL service. The disadvantage of using cable internet service is that it is more expensive than DSL and other options. Besides that, the cable is also may not be available where you live. Even if there is, there may be only one provider.

4. How do you find a company and package that actually fits in your lifestyle?

What you need to do is to sift through the different packages and offerings now that you know what you are looking at. Depending on your location, your options may vary. That makes it difficult to give some good general tips at this step. However, here are a few important considerations for you to ponder about. The first point is Bundles.

There are a variety of cable companies which offering bundles with different combinations of phone, television and internet service. Before signing up for these bulk deals, it is important for you to think about it really well. In most cases, companies usually would really love to upsell and lock in customers with more services.

Do you really need the landline that much? Instead of a whole cable package, can you get by streaming television from your new internet service? In some situations, bundling services might make sense, but you also need to weigh the value and cost before you make your decision. Be wary of the upsell. Know exactly what you need before you sign a deal and never be tempted until you have done thorough research on a particular “deal”. Next, it is about promotions.

Often times, you will be able to find promotions to entice first-time customers. For example, one year of internet service at $30 per month instead of $50. You may find good prices with such deals. However, please make sure that you are ready to either pay full price or you may cancel your service at the end of the promotional period.

Then, try to look at customer service. Please look harder if you are looking for excellent customer service. It is reported by the Consumer Reports that several large cable companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner cable received the least customer satisfaction ratings among bundled service providers. After that, it’s about negotiating. The survey also found out that consumers rate cable bundles as a poor value consistently. However, negotiating the services and prices can pay off. Consumer Reports found out that among consumers who attempted to negotiate a better deal, 40% received a new promotional rate, 16% received extra channels, while another 12% got a faster internet speed.

5. Other Options

Tethering

Are you not a fan of a traditional internet service provider? Then you may consider using a cellular data connection on your smartphone to connect to the internet. You can do this by tethering, which connects your cell phone to your computer via a USB cable, or by using another device or your phone as a mobile hot spot. If your internet usage is minimal, this option is affordable. This is because it draws from a limited data allotment, oftentimes from your cell phone plan. You may use this option to check your email and do a simple web browsing.

Satellite

Satellite internet access can be both more expensive and slower compared to other options, however, it may be the only choice for those who live in rural areas. On the bright side, it often performs better than dial-up and does not use a phone line, and hence your landline is free to use while you are connected to the internet.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband service is also offered by wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T. This connects to the internet through cellular networks which is similar to data service on your smartphone, except that it uses a separate mobile hot spot or wireless modem.

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